Sopa Fria by Dana Ordonez Sanchez (Junior)

The days, as my dad would tell me, were spent longing for something. For my father, that was the homeland, for my mother, that was the house being clean, for my sister, that was the depths of her imagination, for my brother, that was his toys, and for me, I wasn’t sure. I do as I am told. I do my homework, I get good grades, I clean, I pray, I respect, and I repeat. I got so used to the routine that I had fooled myself into thinking that is what I wanted. I want to get good grades even though I spent all my hours studying. I want to have an honorable career so I won’t have to work as hard as my parents. 

High school was the epitome of my realization, maybe I want something more. And I realized it every time I told someone that I was in high school and got the same question: “Luciana, what are you planning to do after high school?” 

“I am going to college. I want to be a pediatrician,” I’d say. It felt like the right answer. Oftentimes, they would praise me for being intelligent and having my goals set for an honorable career. I would get the same  question every year—except for sophomore year, where I’d get the added bonus of “When will you drive?” I thought to myself how should I know what I want if I barely know who I am?

I wanted to be popular, the one all the boys wanted. I wanted to be reliable, the person you go to when you’re down. I wanted to be smart, the person who knew all the answers when Google wasn’t there. Most importantly, I wanted to be beautiful, I wanted to feel confident I wanted to know I am beautiful inside and out. Some days more than others, I spent my time looking in the mirror. Am I Beautiful?  Why don’t boys like me?  My legs are too big. My nose is too wide.  My cheeks are too round.  My waist is too big. My hair is too frizzy.  My eyes are too puffy.  My freckles are too dark. Who am I?  Why can’t I look like her? 

Why can’t I look like her? That phrase was stuck inside my head all the time. I wanted to be someone who wasn’t me. I wanted to be like Rebecca, her hair was always beautiful, Cassandra, her hands were always perfectly manicured, Brianna, who was always stylish, but I never wanted to be me. I began to look for ways to validate myself. I wanted someone telling me,  “You are enough.” That’s when I met Roberto. I never liked him. I thought he was repulsive and ignorant. But he was the only boy I could think of that would want me. I hesitated —I knew he was bad news— but, I let myself think that if he wanted me and that I was special. The relationship began innocently; we’d held hands, he’d asked me how my day was, and when I said no it meant no. Shortly, I would become aware that even shouting no wouldn’t be enough. I knew that on the night when too many beer bottles were on the ground, I knew that when I was locked in a room, I knew when laughter was the only thing I could hear other than my cries, and I knew that when I felt broken. I would become a broken cassette, always on repeat. 

I’d come to do something I never thought I would do, lie.  I lied to my mom and dad about Roberto. “Mija, do you have a boyfriend?” they’d ask. I’d always say no. I was too ashamed. My parents would never approve of Roberto; he was everything they despised. Soon, white lies began to become bigger and bigger. I’d ditch school, I’d fail classes, I’d talk back, and I’d sneak out.

The day that my mom figured out my whole façade started normally. My mom gave me her blessing before heading to school. On the way to school, she asked me about my assignments and all the work around the house. Around my mom, I always felt so at ease I’d forget about everything. I kissed her on the cheek and said, “Mami, can you make sopa fria for dinner tonight?” 

I went to school and, although I lied about my grades and my attendance, that day felt different. I paid attention, I didn’t see Roberto, and I didn’t feel broken. I knew I didn’t have the courage to leave Roberto or tell my parents, but I felt like things were better. At the end of the day, I remembered I had left my laptop at home. When I got home, I realized that my mom had found the messages between Roberto and me. 

“¡Niña! What’s going on?” she yelled, shoving the screen across the table. She then asked, “Is there something I shouldn’t see?” My first instinct was to lie—it had become my version of a getaway driver—but I nodded and she knew. She knew about the relationship, she knew about the disrespect, and she knew about the abuse. It was all out, all the parts of my life I didn’t want her to know because I was ashamed. I didn’t feel anything. She was angry and disappointed. I was too. My dad found out, my sister, and my brother. That night I didn’t eat dinner, and I cried. 

The next day, my parents yelled. They reminded me that I was stupid, immature, and naïve. My mom said she was disappointed and she couldn’t understand why I was stupid enough to believe him. That’s when I told her about the night with too many beer bottles on the ground, the locked door, and my cries that serenaded his laughter. Her expression changed, she just stood up and walked away.  The cold silence lingered with us for weeks. Everyday was a reminder of the disappointment I had become. My world was in shambles. The part I kept true with my family was destroyed. I betrayed their trust and, worst of all, my secret was out. Dinner, once lively and fun, became dreadful and cold.  

One night, I was going to skip dinner. I knew that my presence was what made dinner so dreadful. I was going to read a book and grab something to eat later when everyone was away. I pondered on leaving altogether. No lie, apology, plea, or cry could get me out of this. 

“Mom said to come for dinner,” my sister said bluntly. 

“I’m not hungry,” I said. 

“She said to come.”  

“Fine.” I mustered the bit of courage I had left and walked myself to the dinner table. 

My dad was sitting next to me, my mom beside him, my brother in his chair, and my sister beside me. Sopa fria, it was on my plate. I smiled for the first time in weeks and looked at my parents. “Comé,Eat, they said.  Tears rolled down my face. I ate my heart out and I cried. I felt my mom’s soft hand on my back. “Ya ya mija, todo va estar bien.” Everything will be okay.  I knew what I longed for and what I wanted now: sopa fria.